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Seven elements of “good help” could transform public services, say Nesta and Osca

Charities launch £15,000 Good Help Award for practitioners who are helping people change their lives

Connecting people with peers, helping them define their goals and creating opportunities for them to build confidence are just some of the ways in which public services could better help people to make long-term changes in their lives, two charities say today.

Research from innovation foundation Nesta and Osca the social impact lab (1) reveals the seven elements of “good help” that frontline staff can use to deliver more effective support - without needing to restructure services (2).

The report Good and bad help: how purpose and confidence transform lives shows that public services are set up to react and respond to specific issues rather than addressing people’s broader circumstances - which can often lead to people needing repeated or more acute support further down the line.

Meanwhile, there is very little guidance or support for practitioners to offer “good help” which helps people make long-term changes for a range of issues.

Drawing upon evidence from voluntary sector services ranging from social care to education and justice, the research seeks to fill the gap by showing more organisations how they can offer good help.

The charities find that helping people to build confidence and purpose is key:

  • Good help starts with the person and their goals rather than setting out to solve a specific problem. It helps people build a sense of purpose, confidence in their ability to meet their goals and hope, so they are more likely to take steps towards long-term change.
  • Bad help often focuses on a single problem without addressing underlying or related issues. It is short-term and aims to fix things for people, unintentionally undermining their confidence, creating dependency and inaction.

Classic examples of bad help are people being prescribed antidepressants without being asked about problems in their lives, or being told to find a job without help to identify what they want to do or how to fill in an application.

Good help approaches include the Mayday Trust’s Personal Transitions Service, which works with people going through tough life transitions such as homelessness or leaving prison. The approach helps people to build upon their strengths, purpose and confidence - meaning they are more likely to move on from their situations sustainably.

Another example is Grapevine, which helps learning disabled people to achieve their own personal goals by connecting them with people across the community.

Nesta and Osca are calling for practitioners to help build the body of evidence about effective help so that it can be scaled up and enter mainstream services (3).

The charities are also today launching the Good Help Awards - which will reward organisations or teams that are helping people transform their lives through building their purpose and confidence to take action (4).

Christina Cornwell, Director of Health Lab at Nesta says:

“There are dozens of organisations around the country that are helping people make long-term changes by finding out what’s important to them.

“Many programmes have developed because our mainstream services are failing to give people the help that they need, when they need it. Without ‘good help’ people can be trapped in cycles of dependency, leading them to receive ‘bad help’ again and again.

“At a time when funding pressures and increasing demand mean that our public services are at breaking point, it’s essential that we explore ways that all services and programmes can help people take action.”

Richard Wilson, Director at Osca, said:

“Today we face a paradox, that many of the activities designed to help people actually undermine their ability to take action.

“The result is that too many services don’t help people tackle the real issues they face. Issues like changing lifestyle to prevent heart disease or start a new life when leaving prison. Instead ‘Bad help’ involves quick fixes, reinforcing dependency and leaves people feeling hopeless, overwhelmed and let down. As well as the tremendous personal and social costs involved, there are significant financial costs of ‘bad help’.

“Too many nurses, teachers and social workers are being forced to offer ‘bad help’. It’s demoralising for them and can be disastrous for the communities they serve.”

“Good help provides us with a practical way of addressing today’s public service crisis. To do this we have to bring ‘good help’ into the mainstream and do so at scale.”

The seven elements of good help are:

  • Power sharing - rather than directing people to do things, sharing control over decisions
  • Enabling conversations - helping people to think through what’s important to them and why, and helping them come up with their own solutions
  • Tailoring - help people define their own purpose and goals, in the context of their personal circumstances
  • Scaffolding - supporting people to sustain change over time, by helping people to make first steps with support and further steps by themselves
  • Role modelling and peer support - helping people develop relationships which give them support and inspiration to make changes
  • Opportunity making - creating opportunities or removing barriers, such as brokering relationships or practical changes to free up time or address financial constraints
  • Transparency - giving people access to all relevant information in a timely way, such as test results.

— Ends —

Notes to Editors

  1. Nesta and Osca worked with over 60 organisations to gather evidence on effective approaches and impact, including interviews, workshops and a survey. These spanned children and young people, health and wellbeing, homelessness, disability, employment, justice and education.
  2. The seven elements of good help combine examples of good practice with behavioural theory.
  3. The charities are inviting practitioners from all sectors to share evidence of how they deliver effective help.
  4. Nesta is launching the Good Help Awards on Tuesday 6 February 2018. There are three awards available - one £15,000 winner, and two £5,000 runners up. The winners of these awards will be asked to spend the money on activities that support their ‘good help’ work.

About Nesta

Nesta is a global innovation foundation. We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills. We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. To find out more visit

Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833.

Osca is a social impact lab. We combine our knowledge of people, data and systems to help organisations increase their social impact. We do this through building partnerships with governments, businesses and charities. We are based in the UK but work across the world. To find out more visit

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